Describing an upcoming project, Monstah Black explains: “I imagine it resembling Fela Kuti meets Sylvester while sipping champagne with Prince and Grace Jones in a lounge on the bottom of the ocean.” That might give you a sense of the spectacular aesthetic feasts offered by Monstah Black & The Sonic Leroy. The choreographer and his group stage hyper-kinetic, visually dazzling performances to his original musical compositions whose hybrid generic designation (Electro Afro-Punk Funk) doesn’t quite capture the amalgam of influences that you might hear in any one song. Black also creates the stunning costumes for his performances, unique pieces designed to complement the wild style of the music and movements.
The cultural grab-bag of influences and allusions in Black’s work gets more extreme if you try to decipher his choreography. He infuses modern dance with shades of disco and funk and the comic, hyper-performative and sometimes confrontational style of address of burlesque. Black also incorporates moves from various martial arts traditions and the expressive slow-motion acrobatics of Japanese Butoh. His dynamic mashup of styles has evolved since he moved to New York from Virginia in 1999 and as he’s collaborated with artists in every sector.
In March he was featured in the Studio Series at Dance Theater Workshop, where he presented Living Outside The……, a new piece that continued his project to question and undermine the ways we perform and signify gender, sexuality, race and class. Between his catchy beats, politically ambitious agenda and the shear visual pleasure of his show, Black isn’t likely to run out of style or subjects anytime soon.
The L Magazine: Does one art form (music, performance, choreography, design, etc.) take precedence when you work, is there one medium that leads and the others follow suit, or do you give equal priority to each?
Monstah Black: I've been in a transitional period for a few years now where music production and songwriting has begun to take precedence in my life. I've had extensive training in choreography and performance so I went through a period in my life where performance art and dance was my main focus but driven by music. Now the music is the focus, the visual and costume design is secondary leaving dance as the topping on the cake when necessary, which is usually most of the time. The outcome of the fusion is, everything is presented with equal importance but the music is what really turns me on, hit helps me lose my mind.
What has been your most gratifying experience as an artist?
My most gratifying experiences as an artist are the preparation behind the scenes when ideas flow together seamlessly and when I'm on stage letting go completely and I can feel the audience hanging on with me completely engaged as I let go of my internal physical boundaries. Like when you are on the tallest roller coaster in the world, you've reached the peak before the first drop and you hold onto the harness with all your might. That's what it feels like. Then once you exit the ride you are ready for a refreshing beverage and a hot dog and fries (veggie hot dog and sweet potato fries, and maybe a vodka tonic or a glass of wine, LOL, just kidding, or maybe not).
What upcoming projects are you working on?
I'm writing new songs and building a show to premier and release a CD in Spring of 2010. It combines afro latin with funk, electro, soul, disco and a little bit of punk here and there, thrown in for good measure. I'm interested in channeling the middle passage to address issues of gender fluidity as well as violence and bullying. I imagine it resembling Fela Kuti meets Sylvester while sipping champagne with Prince and Grace Jones in a lounge on the bottom of the ocean. I'm looking for musicians to build the show starting in September, so those interested should hit me up.
Where you’ll see his work next: performing a song from The Wiz at Dance Theater Workshop, 9/9.
Monstah Black and the Sonic Leroy